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The Best Airlines To Fly Economy Between The USA & Australia

Plus: an excuse to squeeze a few days in tropical paradise into your trip.

So you’re off to the land of burgers and fries? Great. But before you set off on your trip of a lifetime, you’re going to need to… get there. Of course there are myriad options. However, as a cheapskate discerning flyer, you want value for money, right? Well you’re in luck; we’ve done the sleuthing for you. These are the best economy experiences between the US and Australia.

Virgin Australia International

Just because you’re not flying flat doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself.

Route

Direct flight (available from Sydney and Brisbane) straight to Las Angeles.

Flight Time

14-15 hours.

Seat

Richard Branson saw what some of the other airlines were offering and one-upped them. By one inch. But hey—it’s better than nothing. Pitch: 32 inches (81cm), recline: 6 inches (15cm) and width: 18.5 inches (47cm). Plus a (relatively) spacious 3-3-3 configuration (as opposed to the dreaded 3-4-3).

Food and Drink

Standard economy meals, included in the ticket price.

Luggage

7 kilograms of carry on, plus two checked in suitcases of 23kg each (per person). As most airlines only give you one of these 23kg bad boys, this is a real perk.

Price

From $1,150 return.

Aircraft

Airbus A330-200 or Boeing 777-300ER.

Passenger Reviews

According to Tripadvisor’s aggregated reviews, Virgin Australia International’s seat comfort and legroom are both excellent, its customer service is average (“crew’s attentiveness… ranged from cold to plenty of smiles”), and its entertainment options are also average (“movie choices is enough, but if you flew domestic with Virgin you would come across the same lists”). Of 655 reviews, 335 were excellent, 191 were very good, 71 were average, 24 were poor and 34 said terrible.

Conclusion

Good value for money—especially if you travel with a lot of baggage. Also: competition keeps prices low and Los Angeles (despite its notoriously slow security queues) is a major hub, so when you land it’s easy to connect to another city in the US.

Air New Zealand

An added bonus of Air NZ is the Skycouch, for couples, parents and families willing to pay a little extra to spread out.

Route

From Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, via Auckland, to Las Angeles.

Flight Time

Between 17 and 20 hours (depending on the layover and which city you fly from).

Seat

With a pitch (legroom) of 31 (79 centimetres), an incline of 5 inches (12.7cm) and a width of 17.2 inches (44cm) Air NZ’s seats are no worse than the industry standard, but—for these flight routes—one inch more sardine-like than Virgin’s.

Food and Drink

Fresh (by airline standards), flavoursome New Zealand food and wine from the Kiwi flagship airline’s world-renowned menus.

Luggage

One carry on of 7kg, one checked in bag of 23kg.

Price

From $999 return.

Aircraft

Boeing 787-9, 777-300 and Boeing 777-200.

Passenger Reviews

Of course, on any review website you are going to have disgruntled passengers who find something to complain about, but despite the odd negative review (mostly about cancelled flights), Air NZ is one of the most (positively) raved about airlines—particularly when it comes to its onboard staff. Comments include,”(For a small company) Air New Zealand always manages to punch above its weight,” as well as, “The service by the crew was beyond excellent.” Of 680 economy reviews of this trip, 425 were excellent, 150 very good, 56 average, 26 poor and 23 terrible.

Conclusion

Not a bad option if you’re travelling from Melbourne, because you may well have to fly domestically to Sydney to get a direct flight to the US anyway. In this case flying via Auckland is a good option—particularly if you want to experiences Air NZ’s famed customer service or its Skycouch facilities. However if your goal is to get to the US as quickly as possible, with no stops, you’re better off going direct with Qantas or United.

Qantas

When it comes to direct flights, it’s hard to go past the flying kangaroo.

Route

Direct to Los Angeles from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Or direct to San Francisco (from Sydney only). Or Direct to Dallas Fort Worth (from Sydney only).

Flight Time

13 hours 50 mins (to Los Angeles from Sydney), 12 hours 40 mins (from Brisbane to Los Angeles), 14 hours 30 mins (from Melbourne to Los Angeles) or 15 hours 20 mins (Sydney to Dallas Fort Worth).

Seat

With a pitch (legroom) of 31 inches (79 centimetres), an incline of 5 inches (12.7cm) and a width of 17.2 inches (44cm) Qantas’s international economy seats are of the industry standard.

Food and Drink

At Qantas a welcome drink is offered after take-off, as well as continuous snacks and refreshments throughout the flight. You can pre-select your meal online before takeoff, or leave your fate in the hands of the Qantas chefs.

Luggage

Carry on, plus one piece of checked baggage up to 23kg.

Price

From $1,151 return.

Aircraft

Airbus A380-800.

Passenger Reviews

Of 570 reviews, 253 rated it excellent, 157 rated it very good, 65 rated it average, 48 rated it poor and 47 rated it terrible. Comments include, “From check in to the flight everything ran smoothly… seats were comfortable and plane was very clean,” and, “The food was fairly good.” Tips include: “Travel mid week if possible to increase your chances of having a not so full or crowded flight.”

Conclusion

One of the best ways to traverse the pacific. More direct than Air NZ, slightly quicker (although less legroom than) Virgin. Sydney to Dallas only worth it if you want to visit/have a connecting flight in Dallas, as this is one of the longest long-haul flights in the world. Side note: if you live in Perth, your best option is to fly to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and get one of these direct flights.

American Airlines

New cattle class, who dis?

Route

Direct to Los Angeles from Sydney only. Or via Auckland to Los Angeles, from Melbourne and Brisbane.

Flight Time

14-15 hours (plus the layover, if you’re going via Auckland).

Seat

In a classic 3-4-3 configuration, American Airlines’ seat pitch is 31 inches (79 centimetres), with a width of 17 inches (43 centimetres).

Food and Drink

Although you may be underwhelmed by the brusque, “Beef, fish or chicken?” introduction to your flight, as one review points out, American Airlines’ dinner offering of beef with carrots, broccoli and mash is “unexpectedly tasty”. Same goes for the passionfruit dessert and the salted-caramel ice-cream usually on offer afterwards. Having said that, compared to wine-merchants-of-the-sky like Qantas, American Airlines’ wine options are limited, as are the snacks available during the bulk of the flight, which consist mainly of chips and water.

Luggage

Like Virgin you get two checked bags of up to 23 kilograms each, plus one carry-on bag (no weight restriction) and a personal item.

Price

From $1,100 return.

Aircraft

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Passenger Reviews

Of the 58 reviews of American Airlines’ main economy cabin from passengers who flew to or from LAX, 14 say excellent, 24 say very good, 11 say average, 5 say poor and 5 say terrible. So you’ve pretty good odds of having a decent trip. Common observations were: better legroom than expected, worse food (or at least, smaller portion sizes) than expected, great movie selection, and decent customer service.

Conclusion

Chances are you’ll be on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which were introduced into the fleet last year to phase out the Boeing 777-300ER’s. So from an aircraft (and convenience) perspective, its good value for money, especially if you live in Sydney. Otherwise, if you live in Melbourne or Brisbane we would recommend Air NZ as they stop over in Auckland too, and typically provide better customer service for a comparable price.

United Airlines

Great for the price conscious consumer.

Route

Direct to Los Angeles from Sydney and Melbourne only. Or non stop to San Francisco (from Sydney only).

Flight Time

14-15 hours from Sydney to LAX, 15-17 hours from Melbourne to LAX. 13-14 hours from Sydney to San Francisco.

Seat

Configuration: 3-3-3. Pitch: 32 inches (81cm). Recline: 3 inches (7cm). Width: 16.3 – 17.3 inches (41.4 – 43.9cm).

Food and Drink

Complimentary meal service, mid flight snack, beer and wine and a “choice menu snack shop” available if you want to purchase extra.

Luggage

One carry on bag, plus two check in bags of no more than 23kg each.

Price

From $980 return.

Aircraft

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Passenger Reviews

Of 24 Tripadvisor reviews of United Airlines’ Sydney to LAX flight, 6 rated it excellent, 6 rated it very good, 5 rated it average, 4 rated it poor and 3 called it terrible. It’s worth noting that some of the poor reviews (“Almost missed flight due to horrendous LA Airport”) were complaining about the LAX airport, rather than United Airlines specifically. The common theme was an appreciation for the 787 Dreamliners.

“We flew on the 787 Dreamliner which I was eagerly looking forward to. It did. Not disappoint. The dimming windows versus shades, the difference in air pressure and the more humid cabin made for a much more pleasant.”

The 29 reviews of the Sydney-San Francisco flight (7 said excellent, 12 very good, 9 average, 5 poor and 3 terrible) reveal a slightly higher level of satisfaction. Of the 24 reviews of Melbourne to LAX, 5 were excellent, 7 were very good, 3 were average, 5 were poor and 4 were terrible.

Conclusion

Great option for the price conscious consumer. Little difference in terms of customer satisfaction between Sydney and Melbourne, however there is a discernible difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco in terms of customer satisfaction so avoid LAX if you can (yes, we know, it is often a necessary evil).

Delta

Some say the food is better than Virgin’s… But the seats aren’t quite as comfy.

Route

Direct to Los Angeles from Sydney.

Flight Time

14-15 hours.

Seat

Pitch: 31-32 inches (78 – 82cm). Width: 18.5 inches (47cm). Recline: standard. Layout: 3-3-3. Oh and although the legroom is the same, the seat itself isn’t as comfortable as the Virgin counterpart; it’s slightly thinner.

Food and Drink

In Delta’s Basic Economy section, you’ll enjoy complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages like coffee, tea, juice, sodas or water. There’s also a selection of alcoholic drinks, served in moderation, and breakfast, lunch and or dinner depending on the time of day you fly. Some reviewers prefer Delta’s food to Virgins, but really it comes down to personal preference.

Luggage

Carry on, plus one checked bag of a maximum of 23kg.

Price

From $1,000 return.

Aircraft

Boeing 777-200LR.

Passenger Reviews

Stand out reviews include: “Virgin lands you in the heart of LAX madness of Tom Bradley International, while Delta lands at the much quieter Terminal 2 – meaning you’re going to get through customs a hell of a lot quicker” (AU Abroad), and, ““Spend the extra couple hundred to upgrade to Delta Premium…it’s SO worth it!”. Of the 33 TripAdvisor reviews (of this specific journey) 7 rated it excellent, 9 very good, 11 average, 3 poor and 3 terrible.

Conclusion

A decent, budget friendly option for Sydney-siders making the trip to LA. Definitely worth considering an upgrade to Delta Premium.

Fiji Airways

Dat configuration tho…

Route

Los Angeles via Fiji. Flights available originating from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Flight Time

Total: 17-18 hours. This typically comprises of: 3 hours 50 minutes—Sydney to Nadi, 10 hours 45 mins—Nadi to Los Angeles (plus a two hour layover). The return trip is the same but typically an hour or so slower (due to the West to East jet stream).

Seat

The only airline of this bunch to go with a 2-4-2 economy configuration. Pitch: 31-32 inches (78-81cm). Width: 17.3 inches (44cm). Recline: standard.

Food and Drink

Fiji Airlines will provide you with South Pacific cuisine, alongside a full range of beverages and light snacks.

Luggage

7 kilos carry on, 23 kilos checked.

Price

From $945 return.

Aircraft

Airbus Industrie A330-300 (most flights). Boeing 737-800 (occasionally used for some legs of the flight).

Passenger Reviews

For the Sydney – Fiji leg there were 293 Tripadvisor reviews. 62 rated it excellent, 68 very good, 35 average, 28 poor and 32 terrible. For the Fiji – Los Angeles leg there were 792 Tripadvisor reviews, 213 excellent, 249 very good, 168 average, 72 poor and 90 terrible. One comment sums up the experience fairly well: “The cabin crew were delightful; it’s a shame I can not say the same for the aircraft.” Editor’s note: these aircraft are fine—modern, even!—but as their competitors keep upgrading, Fiji Airway’s Airbus A330-300 is starting to look a bit dated.

Conclusion

There’s no there’s no point flying this route unless you want to spend a couple of nights in Fiji (the overall flight time to Los Angeles via Fiji is at least two hours longer than any of the direct flight routes in this list). However, if you’re looking to break up your trip we’d recommend doing it here, with a few cocktails in the sun, rather than in an Auckland airport lounge, for pretty much the same price.

RELATED: The Best Trans-Pacific Business Class Experiences In The Sky 

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